Research shows albatrosses fitted with GPS can locate illegal fishing vessels

Researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) are utilizing albatrosses to patrol the seas for illegal fishing.

CNRS researchers fitted 169 albatrosses with loggers that include radar detectors, a GPS antenna, a processor, and memory, but with the addition of an Argos antenna for real-time data transmission. The study took place over six months between November 2018 and March 2019, and covered the southwestern Indian Ocean, extending through to New Zealand.  s

“Scientists at the Centre d’études biologiques de Chizé (CNRS/La Rochelle Université) made use of these majestic creatures with their huge wingspans to detect fishing boats that do not have an automatic identification system (AIS) in the southern Indian Ocean,” the CNRS press release said last week.

The study, published in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 27 January, said that when an albatross flies over a vessel, the logger can detect the radar signal showing its position to scientists and assist in identifying illegal fishing.

“If it does not correspond to the position of a vessel identified by AIS in national waters, the boat may be involved in illegal activity,” the CNRS release said.

The research is part of the Ocean Sentinel program, established in collaboration with teams at the French natural reserve and New Zealand’s Sextant Technology.

The study’s lead author, Henri Weimerskirch, said albatrosses are the perfect tool to help detect illegal fishing.

"They are covering extensive distances in the Southern Ocean – up to 107 kilometers in a single day – and they are very attracted by boats, especially fishing boats. [They are], in fact, our ideal model to obtain information on the location of fisheries,” Weimerskirch said.

Weimerskirch said a proposal to expand the study to include the open ocean, covering international waters, is under consideration.  

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